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Some colleges call a timeout

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Earlier this month, after a string of racist and homophobic incidents — including a reported sighting of someone in Ku Klux Klan garb — officials at Ohio’s Oberlin College announced that they would cancel classes for a day and instead hold a series of workshops, musical performances, and a campus convocation. Some viewed the measure as unnecessary for a college that has long been known for progressive stances. But by signaling the seriousness of the incidents, and indicating a zero-tolerance policy, Oberlin officials made the right decision.

Oberlin follows other campuses that have taken extreme measures to capture students’ attention and spark cultural change. In 2011, Williams College canceled classes for a day after an incident of hate speech. Last fall, in the wake of a disturbing report about the aftermath of an alleged campus rape, Amherst College replaced a day of classes with a forum on sexual assault.

Some argue a one-day, feel-good gathering serves mainly to relieve administrations from the need to change their policies or examine their practices. It’s true that a day off from classes, in itself, will do little to change campus culture. But a break from business as usual, used judiciously and followed up with policy examination, can send an important message about the kind of behavior that’s tolerated on campus.

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